Jayce Kazan parked his Harley in front of December McIntyre’s house. The feisty pregnant redhead wouldn’t be there because she now lived on the Armstrong ranch with her mate and the rest of the lupine shifter pack who made their home in Fontana, North Carolina.
But Kat would be home.
Or she should be. Even after December moved, Kat had stayed there instead of moving to the ranch. After her brutal attack by the radical Antiparanormal League (APL) group a month ago and subsequent near-death experience, she’d been turned into a lupine shifter out of necessity. Just like him. The only difference between them was he’d been born that way almost five hundred years ago. Well, maybe not the only difference. He was a crass, roughneck enforcer who’d killed more beings than he could ever hope to count and she was . . . fucking perfection.
At least to him.
Right now she wasn’t returning his calls. Not that he blamed her. He hadn’t been there for her when she’d needed him most and he wanted to rip his own heart out because of it. At least then maybe he’d be able to assuage some of his guilt. One of the Armstrong pack members had bitten her and turned her into a shifter instead of letting her die. She’d had only a one percent chance of surviving the change, and even though Jayce was grateful that Aiden had saved her, a dark part of him hated that bastard.
He hated the fact that he hadn’t been the one to save her. That someone else had had the honor of taking what was his. His human side knew he’d never planned to change Kat—it would have turned her into a walking target overnight if anyone discovered how deep his feelings for her ran—but his animal side didn’t give a shit. No one should have ever touched what was his.
Though she really wasn’t his, was she? Not anymore anyway. Hadn’t been for almost a year. At one time she had been. He’d kissed and teased every inch of her naked body and she’d done the same to his. Things had never been particularly easy between them—not with their strong personalities—but with the exception of his MIA brother she was the only person on the planet he’d ever let his guard down around. She brought out the best in him. Hell, she also brought out his worst, protective side. For over a month he’d exercised all his restraint just staying away from her while working for the Council.
After getting only an hour of sleep last night, he was edgy and ready to rip someone’s head off. Maybe it hadn’t been the smartest idea to roll up to see her the moment he’d gotten back in town, but he didn’t care. He needed to see her.
Craved it so bad his canines ached at the thought. She could slam the door on him for all he cared. He just needed to see her face.
As he swung his leg over the bike and straightened, he glanced up and saw Ryan get out of his truck across the street. Though he didn’t want to be patient or polite, he waited while the other shifter strode toward him.
Ryan wore a thick down jacket and jeans, and even though Jayce couldn’t see an outline, he knew the guy was packing a few weapons. The chilly January weather wouldn’t have affected Ryan like it would humans, so he knew the main reason the shifter was wearing a jacket was to hide guns and blades. “Hey, Jayce. What are you doing here?”
Jayce raised an eyebrow at the question. Why the hell wouldn’t he be here?
Ryan’s lips pulled into a thin line. “I didn’t mean it like that. I didn’t know you’d be back so early. Thought you were still on Council business or something.”
He shrugged. As the enforcer for the North American Council of lupine shifters, Jayce didn’t answer to anyone. Not Ryan. Not even Connor Armstrong, leader of the Armstrong pack and also Ryan’s Alpha. No one. While he might work for the Council, he sure as hell didn’t answer to them either. They needed him and he made damn sure they never forgot it. So even if he didn’t have to answer the wolf in front of him, or that wolf’s boss, he knew that projecting his own bad mood wouldn’t win him any friends, and right now he needed all the fucking friends he could get. “Caught an early flight and headed over here. Haven’t called Connor to let him know I’m in town, though, so . . .”
Ryan nodded. “I’ll let you call him.”
He cleared his throat. “Thanks.” The word felt foreign on his lips. He should have called Connor the moment he arrived in town out of respect, but he had a lot to discuss with him and some of it needed to be done in person. He’d received information that someone was trafficking vampire blood in the next county. After settling in, he intended to search out some former contacts. Not to mention he still planned to ferret out any possible dangerous APL members still in the area. That problem hadn’t gone away and he knew it wasn’t likely to anytime soon. More than anything, he just wanted to see Kat. Everything else took a backseat. “When did she get home?” Jayce didn’t need to specify who he referred to.
Ryan shrugged. “Few hours ago. She was at the ranch with, uh . . . Aiden, training, but she still won’t move there to live with the pack. Which is why we’re still watching her in shifts.”
Jayce already knew that. After the attack from those APL fuckers nearly killed her, she’d been fairly defiant in her demand that she live away from what was now her pack. Connor had jurisdiction over her since she technically lived in his territory, but considering that she’d been turned into a shifter without the proper introduction to pack life and rules, Connor was giving her some leeway. He was a fair Alpha, so Jayce wasn’t exactly surprised. Even if he did hate the fact that Connor wouldn’t force her to live on the ranch, where she’d be protected at all times.
“You have a key to the house?” Jayce asked, though he was already pretty certain of the answer. Connor wouldn’t have left anyone to watch the house without a way to get inside if necessary. Of course they could break in, but cleaning up a mess was a hassle Jayce knew the Alpha wouldn’t want to deal with.
Ryan paused. “Yeah. She’s gonna be pissed if you just walk in there.”
“I know.” He held out his hand, not asking for it but silently demanding.
Sighing, the other wolf dug a single key out of his pocket and handed it over. As he headed back to his vehicle, Ryan muttered something under his breath about Jayce taking his life into his own hands.
If he’d had more sleep or was in a better mood, he might have smiled at the statement. A pissed-off Kat was a sight to see. And he’d only seen her truly angry when she’d been human. He could just imagine her attitude as a shifter.
The last time he’d seen her as a lupine shifter had been directly after her transformation. She’d been healed after the change but covered in her own blood. And another wolf had been holding her.
Jayce still didn’t know the details of what had happened to her during her hours of torture—she refused to tell anyone about it—but according to December she still had nightmares.
And no one was there to ease her pain. Jayce’s hands balled into fists as he turned and headed up the stone walkway. Ever since they’d found Kat in that broken-down barn, he’d been living in hell. It was the feeling of helplessness that nearly undid him every time he thought of her. Which was practically every second of every day. The tall, gorgeous woman invaded his dreams when he was sleeping. He should have been there to save her. If he had been, he would have been the one to change her into a shifter.
The second he stepped into the house, he knew Kat wasn’t there. Her scent was there, but he couldn’t hear a heartbeat. She’d been gone maybe twenty minutes if he had to guess from her fading scent. Had ducked her guard just as he feared she’d do since Connor had let her live apart from the pack.
Jayce knew it wasn’t the first time she’d done this either. December had become an unlikely source of information, but she was worried about her friend and often called him with updates on Kat.
This kind of shit was going to stop as far as he was concerned. If she didn’t care about her own safety, she needed to at least be concerned about the rest of the pack. And according to December, over the past week Kat had been disappearing for hours at a time. She wouldn’t tell anyone what she was doing either. Since Jayce had heard she’d been having difficulty controlling her change from human to wolf, that could be a very dangerous thing for all the local shifters.
Worry and possessiveness rose up inside him. His need to protect Kat was deep-seated, something he still didn’t understand completely. He’d felt it the moment he’d met her and it jarred him every time he was near her. Or thought about her.
Inhaling, he followed the trail of her scent out the back door, through December’s backyard, and over to the next street. The distinctive scent of roses was so blatantly Kat—every time he smelled the damn flower, he thought of her. But it was slightly different than the actual rose. The classic smell mixed with something sweeter, purer, and all Kat. He would recognize it anywhere.
She hadn’t been gone long, so he hurried back to his bike and headed out. He didn’t bother telling Ryan that Kat was gone either. No one was going after her except him. Anyone who tried to interfere tonight would probably get hurt. Including any shifters.
On his motorcycle it was easy to trail her in his human form. Hell, as an enforcer he preferred his human form. He was much older than most shifters, and once he let his animal take over, it was always a struggle for control with his inner wolf. Right now he needed to exert as much restraint as possible. Where Kat was concerned, it was important, if not necessary.
A short ride later he pulled into the parking lot of Kelly’s Bar and Grill, a local Irish bar in the middle of downtown Fontana. The mountain town in North Carolina saw a lot of tourists in the winter months, and judging from the number of cars in the parking lot, the place was packed tonight.
He rolled his shoulders as he stepped off his bike. Being around too many people—humans or supernatural beings—always put him on edge. All those scents were overwhelming. He’d much rather be outdoors, far from civilization.